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Tutor profile: Marina S.

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Marina S.
Recently Graduated M.A. English Student
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Questions

Subject: Writing

TutorMe
Question:

Write a concise argument regarding Agnes de Castro: A Tragedy. Include an introduction, two or three body paragraphs, and a strong conclusion. Do not exceed a single page.

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Marina S.
Answer:

Catharine Trotter’s 1696 play is based on the true life and murder of Ines de Castro (Agnes in this iteration), King Peter’s extramarital lover. Trotter’s dramatization centers numerous relationships, but most prominently, it centers Princess Constantia—based on King Peter’s legitimate wife—and Agnes’s love for one another. In placing the Princess’s love for her friend on a level akin to her love for her husband, Trotter explores the homoerotic potential of female friendships while still playing into the tragic trope that ultimately punishes non-heteronormative desire. Both the Princess and Agnes express love towards a man, but their love for each other is the only version of truly requited love amongst all the relationships in the play. However, their bond—due to its nonnormative nature, I argue—is unsustainable and both women are fatally punished. The Princess proclaims both Agnes and Prince Pedro, her husband, “so equal dear to me / so closely wove by Fate to my fond breast / That neither can be sever’d from my love / Without unravelling this Web of Life,” placing her platonic yet homoerotic friendship on equal grounds with her marriage to the Prince (Trotter 10). The Princess’s life would be “unraveled” upon Agnes’ potential departure, an untangling of heartstrings of which Agnes holds substantial control. There is no doubt the Princess loves Agnes dearly and as “equal” as she does her husband. Princess Constantia requires both her husband and her friend’s love to survive, and when her friendship with Agnes and marriage to the Prince are put in jeopardy, it only follows that her life ends as she expresses that she’d rather die than live without either one. After Elvira stabs the Princess, our main character has only a few minutes of breath remaining, which she spends expressing further love towards Agnes, forgiving her and granting her blessing to marry Prince Pedro after her death. As Agnes watches Princess Constantia die, she gives a sort of eulogy regarding her higher than all other women: “Better all Womankind at once shou’d perish, / Than you, the sole Perfection of the Sex, / The greatest Blessing, of the whole Creation” (41). Agnes attempts to commit suicide after the Princess dies in her arms; neither of the two can exist without the presence of the other, and in suit, Agnes dies by the play’s end. Reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet’s famous mutual suicide, the intimacy in the Princess’s dying scene where only Agnes is present is comparable to the affection found between lovers. Indeed, like Romeo, Agnes attempts to end her own life upon her love’s death. Agnes’ fainting, which interrupts her suicide attempt, results in a scene where the audience can see two people in love tragically lying beside each other in what both characters would consider their worst nightmare—one continuing life without the presence of the other. Despite its resulting tragedies, Agnes de Castro: A Tragedy explores the limits of friendship, love, and homoerotic desire by treating Agnes and Princess Constantia’s love as one of pure merit with the same respect afforded to heterosexual relationships and marriages. The coyly homoerotic partnerships in Trotter’s play go well beyond the confines of a platonic friendship, and Princess Constantia and Agnes show love for one another in a fashion that nearly undermines the Princess’s heterosexual relationship, implying a homoerotic potential without explicitly establishing the characters as queer. Though their love leads to both women’s downfall, Trotter does not simply kill off her potentially queer characters, as is seen too often with the limited representation queer women are allowed in past and contemporary forms of media. Rather, she expands the limits of what love between women can entail without completely removing heterosexual partnerships, and by framing her play within a larger historical context, she queers an already untraditional love triangle by adding an ambiguously passionate love between two women.

Subject: Literature

TutorMe
Question:

In Marge Piercy's novel Woman on the Edge of Time, how is untraditional motherhood represented, and how is the reader meant to approach Connie's reaction to seeing non-nuclear families?

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Marina S.
Answer:

Connie, perhaps like some readers, shows surprise to the fact that the children of the future have three parents. Though biological parenthood in our time is often limited to no more than two people, it is ironic that Coninie sees this as odd considering the mothering she herself provides to children who are not her biological offspring, both to Dolly and to Dolly’s daughter Nita. Many parents, particularly those of poorer classes and non-white communities, often share parenthood duties with everyone from extended family members to neighbors. Connie even admits that she has to leave Angelina at home with her neighbor for hours on end while she works—not necessarily because she wants to, but because this allows her to work outside of the home. Connie’s neighbor functions as mother to Angelina, just as Connie is a mother to Dolly, and Caramel to Nita. Parenthood almost never truly constricted to two biological parents, and yet when presented as a way of life beginning at a baby’s first breath, Connie codes it as futuristic and unusual. Connie shows some aversion to this loss of a gender association with parenting early on in the novel when she first witnesses a man breastfeeding a baby in the future society: “She felt angry. Yes, how dare any man share that pleasure. These women thought they had won, but they had abandoned to men the last refuge of women. What was special about being a woman here?” (Piercy 126). Connie reminisces the joy she felt while breastfeeding her own daughter and feels anger at the sight of that previously-gendered act now becoming one shared with any parent. While her initial disgust might seem a bit closed-minded of her, her past experiences show us why this was the case. Her motherhood being taken away from her early on—an admitted consequence of a lapse in judgement but also something that intersects with her race and class—helps to explain why something this freely-shared in Mattapoisett is personal to her. Additionally, her repeated violations by male doctors make it easy to see why Connie considers parenthood something special she can hold on to—and not something to be shared with the sex which has contributed to the majority of her trauma.

Subject: Ethnic Studies

TutorMe
Question:

Think about the school classroom as a site of racial self-awareness. Why might this site in particular function as a place where ethnic minorities become strongly self-aware of their own identity?

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Marina S.
Answer:

School is typically one of the first places young children are able to leave their homes and interact with others of their age group with varying ethnic differences. The classroom is often the first place where race is imposed upon a person, and along with its role in a student's education and development, it also leaves space for more social- and self-awareness. For example, former U.S. president Barack Obama lists his school as the first place he realized he was Black. Other fiction and non-fiction writers do the same: James Wheldon Johnson's book Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man includes a scene where the narrator does not realize he is biracial until his teacher makes him aware of it, and W.E.B. DuBois similarly writes of the schoolhouse as a place where his ethnicity is first made plain to him. When school begins, ethnic minorities are suddenly raced by their peers. Color is abruptly brought to their attention when beforehand it was never a noteworthy consideration.

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